History and Heritage

The City of Kwinana is proudly home to a unique set of heritage listed buildings and museums which capture the history of Kwinana.

Kwinana’s history

The City of Kwinana is located in the traditional lands of the Nyoongar people. Important Nyoongar camping, hunting and gathering sites include Sloan’s Reserve, Chalk Hill and The Spectacles. The area surrounding Chalk Hill is part of a trail of fresh water lakes and natural springs running along the greater metropolitan coastal strip. Nyoongar people used the Chalk Hill as a way of signaling their location to others, through the lighting of fires. According to Dreamtime stories, the white chalk found on the hill represents the beards of the elders. 

Simon Gentle, a Ballardong man, was the first ever employee of the Kwinana Road Board in the early 1950s. Several Aboriginal families camped at Chalk Hill and Thomas Oval in the 1950s and 1960s. While Aboriginal people were employed by the council and on the industrial strip, they were not initially eligible for state housing. Following campaigning by Kwinana Road Board councillors, the Walley family were amongst the first Aboriginal people in Western Australia to be allocated state housing. 

The European settlement of Kwinana goes back to the early days of the Swan River Colony. In 1830, Thomas Peel was allocated a large land grant stretching from Cockburn Sound to the Murray River. Peel brought out around 400 settlers from the United Kingdom and established a settlement at Cockburn Sound. Peel’s settlement soon failed, but some early settlers remained in the Kwinana area. 

The next major attempt to settle the Kwinana region was in the 1920s, when the Western Australian Government began bringing out British migrants for the Group and Soldier Settlement Schemes in order to increase primary production in the state. Some of Thomas Peel’s original land was resumed as the Peel Estate Group Settlement in order to establish a dairying industry. However, the scheme was unsuccessful and most of the farms were abandoned by the 1930s. 

During World War Two, a secret radar detection station was located at Wellard Road and manned by RAAF and WAAAF personnel. 

Kwinana as we know it today has its origins in the early 1950s when the WA Government entered into an agreement with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now known as BP) to build an oil refinery and develop Kwinana as an industrial hub. The state government guaranteed it would provide infrastructure and construct state homes to house the refinery workers. Margaret Feilman, Perth’s first female town planner, was engaged to design the new town. The first suburb to be established was Medina. 

Two significant developments in the City’s modern history are the construction of the Casuarina Prison, opened in 1991 to replace the now Heritage-listed Fremantle Prison and the extension of the Kwinana Freeway in 1993, which provided vital transport connections between Kwinana suburbs and Perth city. Kwinana became an official Town in 1977 and was proclaimed a City in 2012. It is now home to over 38,000 people from all over the world.

The Kwinana district gets its name from the Steamship Kwinana. The Kwinana was originally the S.S. Darius and was bought in 1912 by the State Government. The residential neighbours in the main townsite of Kwinana were named after the early sailing ships, which brought settlers and others to Western Australia in the early 1800s, such as Medina, Calista and Parmelia. The streets in these neighbourhoods have been given the names of some of the crew and some of the passengers in those early ships. The Reserves and open spaces were similarly titled.

Further reading: Kwinana Third Time Lucky, Laurie Russell, 1979.​

Heritage sites and landmarks

The City of Kwinana is proudly home to a unique assortment of heritage sites, buildings, landmarks and a museum which captures the rich history of the region. To find out more about heritage sites in the City, visit the heritage building and museums page

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